Judicial selection in Arizona

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Arizona
Seal of Arizona.png
Arizona Supreme Court
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   6 years
Arizona Court of Appeals
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   6 years
Arizona Superior Court
Method:   Assisted appointment or nonpartisan elections
Term:   4 years
Arizona Justice Courts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   4 years

Selection of the state court judges in Arizona occurs through a variety of methods, varying by level of court and (in the case of the superior courts) by county population. The two appellate courts rely on what is known as the Missouri Plan, while the superior courts employ a mix of partisan elections, nonpartisan elections and merit selection.[1]

Elected judges' terms take effect on the first Monday in January following their election.[2]

Supreme Court

See also: Assisted appointment

There are five justices on the Arizona Supreme Court, each appointed by the governor from a list of names compiled by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. The initial term of a new justice is at least two years, after which the justice stands for retention in an uncontested yes-no election. Subsequent terms last six years.[1] For more information on these retention elections, visit the Arizona judicial elections page.

The court's chief justice is selected by peer vote. He or she serves in that capacity for five years.[1]


To serve on this court, a justice must be:

  • a state resident;
  • licensed to practice law in the state for 10 years; and
  • under the age of 70 (retirement by 70 is mandatory).[1]


If a midterm vacancy occurs on the court, the seat is filled as it normally would be if the vacancy occurred at the end of a justice's term. Potential justices submit applications to the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, and once the commission has chosen a slate of nominees, the governor picks one from that list. After occupying the seat for two years, the newly appointed justice stands for retention in the next general election. The justice then serves a full six-year term if he or she is retained by voters.[1][3]

Court of Appeals

See also: Assisted appointment

There are 23 judges on the Arizona Court of Appeals, each appointed in an identical fashion to those of the Arizona Supreme Court (although with different job qualifications, as seen below). Like supreme court justices, court of appeals judges serve initial terms of at least two years and subsequent terms of six years.[1]

The chief judge of the court of appeals, like that of the supreme court, is selected by peer vote. However, he or she only serves in that capacity for one year.[1]


To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • a state resident;
  • licensed to practice law in the state for five years; and
  • at least 30 years old and under the age of 70 (retirement by 70 is mandatory).[1]

Superior Courts

See also: Merit selection
See also: Nonpartisan elections

The 174 judges of the Arizona Superior Court are selected in one of two ways:

  • In counties with a population exceeding 250,000, judges are selected through the merit selection method. (Only Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties currently subscribe to this method, though the constitution provides for other counties to adopt merit selection through ballot initiative). After appointment, judges serve for two years and then must run in a yes-no retention election in the next general election. If retained, judges will go on to serve a four-year term.[1]
  • In the state's other 13 counties, judges run in partisan primaries followed by nonpartisan general elections. Interim vacancies are filled through gubernatorial appointment, and newly appointed judges must run in the next general election.[1]

The chief judge of each superior court is chosen by the supreme court. He or she serves in that capacity for the remainder of their four-year term.[1]

Limited jurisdiction courts

Arizona's limited jurisdiction courts (the justice courts and municipal courts) vary in their selection processes:[1]

Justice Court Municipal Court
Selection: Partisan election Appointment by city or town council*
Term: Four-year term[4] Varies
Re-election method: Contested election Reappointment
Qualifications: At least 18 years old; state resident; qualified voter in precinct; read and write English; law degree not required Vary by city; law degree may not be required
*Except in the City of Yuma, where municipal judges are elected.[1]


Judicial selection methods in Arizona have undergone significant changes in the last 100 years. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest.

  • 1992: Proposition 109 was approved by 58 percent of voters, establishing a formal judicial performance evaluation process. Because of the proposition:
  • public committees are to screen and recommend candidates for appointment to the state's judicial nominating committees;
  • the number of lawyer and non-lawyer members of the nominating commissions increased;
  • the diversity of the state's population must be considered in selecting commission members and judicial candidates; and
  • the county population cutoff for merit selection was raised from 150,000 to 250,000 (see superior courts section).
  • 1974: Proposition 108 was passed, which made merit selection the reigning selection process of the supreme court, court of appeals, and superior courts (in counties with 150,000 people or more). The bill had been proposed almost fifteen years prior.
  • 1970: The Commission on Judicial Qualifications (now called Commission on Judicial Conduct) was established by voters. The commission investigates complaints against state judges.
  • 1965: The court of appeals was created by the legislature. Judges are to be elected by the people to six-year terms.
  • 1960: The modern courts amendment was passed, changing many aspects of the state judiciary. The amendment:
  • gave the supreme court administrative supervision over the state judiciary;
  • allowed the body to make procedural rules of court;
  • increased the number of justices from three to five;
  • allowed for creation of the Arizona Court of Appeals;
  • set the mandatory retirement age at 70; and
  • restricted judicial officers from holding other offices concurrently.

Reform efforts


On April 5, 2013, former Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation that would have the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments make five candidate nominations for each vacancy on the supreme court and court of appeals. Before this legislation, the commission was only required to forward three nominees to the governor for appointment. The law, considered unconstitutional among attorneys like Paul Eckstein who claimed that "you can't amend the Constitution with a statute," went into effect later in 2013.[7][8]

Matthew Benson, Brewer's spokesman, stated: "For the governor, this was about creating more choice. This will give her more options with qualified candidates."[8]


In the first quarter of 2011, fifteen bills having to do with judicial selection were introduced in the Arizona Legislature. All of the proposals intended to change or end merit selection in the state.[9]

Of those house and senate bills, only one emerged to make it onto the ballot in 2012: the Arizona Judicial Selection Amendment (2012), also known as Proposition 115. Though defeated, the amendment aimed to:

  • increase the terms of supreme court, court of appeals and Pima and Maricopa Superior Court judges' from six to eight years (for terms beginning after January 1, 2013).
  • alter the composition of the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Currently the Arizona Bar Association nominates five attorneys to serve and the governor appoints them. The new method would have allowed the governor to appoint four members and the Arizona Bar Association to appoint one attorney.
  • determine that the nominating commission submit at least eight nominees for a vacancy, unless two vacancies occur on the same court simultaneously, in which case the commission must nominate at least six nominees for each.
  • eliminate the differences in term lengths and non-attorney members of the commission.[10]

Arizona voters voted in the November 6, 2012, general election whether to pass this constitutional amendment. It was defeated 72 percent to 28 percent.


During this period, nineteen bills were submitted to eliminate merit selection in Arizona. According to the authors of "On the Validity and Vitality of Arizona's Judicial Merit Selection System: Past, Present and Future", one impetus for these bills was the Arizona Supreme Court ruling in Bennett v. Napolitano. In this case, the high court ruled that state legislators lacked standing to challenge the governor's line item vetoes to the budget.[11]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[12]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links


ArizonaArizona Supreme CourtArizona Court of AppealsArizona Superior CourtArizona Justice CourtsArizona Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the District of ArizonaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth CircuitArizona countiesArizona judicial newsArizona judicial electionsJudicial selection in ArizonaArizonaTemplatewithoutBankruptcy.jpg